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BILL MOYERS: I was struck, in the late 90s, when Buckley called for decriminalizing marijuana. I mean, he published an edition of his magazine announcing the war on drugs is lost. What led him to that conclusion? Because that was not in line with the conservative philosophy of the day.
RICHARD BROOKHISER: Well, he has been thinking about the drug problem, seriously, since the mid 60s. I mean, as early as 1965, when he ran for mayor of New York. And he had–
BILL MOYERS: When he was asked what would happen if he won, he said, “I’d demand a recount.”
RICHARD BROOKHISER: He also said he’d put nets outside the windows of “The New York Times” to catch the editors jumping out. But he made some sort of anti-drug proposal during that race. And Milton Friedman sent him a postcard, you know, with sort of a libertarian critique, you know, “Wars on drugs are futile.” And so on.
And this was a problem that Bill wrestled with. And he just saw, over the years, he came to see that resources were being wasted on this. It was a combination of the futility of it, and at a certain level, the injustice of it because enforcement has to be so capricious. You know, some people get it in the neck. Other people go blithely along. And so that’s why he wrote that issue and printed that issue.
BILL MOYERS: Just the other day on your blog, you saluted President Obama for deciding not to prosecute violations of federal laws against pot in those states where medical marijuana is permitted. What appealed to you about that?
RICHARD BROOKHISER: I think it was a recognition of the political reality that in 14 states, state laws have been passed to lift the penalties on medical use of marijuana. Now, this is something I had to do myself. I had cancer in 1992. And one thing marijuana can do is relieve the nausea that’s often an effect of chemotherapy.
So that’s a hobbyhorse of mine. I think it’s a very important issue. And voters in 14 states have taken that position. Now, federal law prevails over those state laws. But what President Obama decided was we will not use our resources of law enforcement to prosecute medical users in states where the state laws allow them to do that.
BILL MOYERS: And you wrote, “Law and order is not served by passing laws that bring the system into contempt. Liberty is not served by inserting the state between patients and their doctors. And morality is not served by withholding help from the sick.”
RICHARD BROOKHISER: Well, one of the things I was struck with, when I was going through chemotherapy is that every doctor and nurse I dealt with had had patients who had used medical marijuana. Everyone of them. And none of them had discouraged this. But, of course, you know, you can’t prescribe it. It’s illegal. So they said, “Well, you know, smoke it in the bathroom of your room. Don’t, like, do it out in the hall.” And that just struck me as a crazy situation.